The weekly student newspaper of Bucknell University

The Bucknellian

The weekly student newspaper of Bucknell University

The Bucknellian

The weekly student newspaper of Bucknell University

The Bucknellian

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Private prisons use inmates for profit

By Chris Giglio

Opinions Editor

The privatization of jails and correctional facilities should end.  In the United States today there are 264 private correctional facilities, which house nearly 99,000 inmates.  Privatizing this “industry” has become popular because it has saved states money.  In fact, an independent study conducted by the Vanderbilt Institute for Public Policy estimated states could save up to $15 million by using a mix of public and private correctional facilities. As the economic recession drags on, this cost-saving option will become all the more tempting.

But at what cost do we let the drive for profits dictate our actions?  Our goal as a society should be to limit the number of people who end up in jail.  By providing public schooling, welfare to poor families and alternative community activities, we hope to provide a bright future for as many youth as possible.  I worry that the privatizing of prisons is a backwards step in this effort. The goal of any private firm is to maximize profits—for a prison that means cutting costs and getting as many inmates as possible.  I can’t see how either of these goals will better society.

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Private prisons will always have the incentive to cut accommodations to prisoners just to the point where civil rights lawyers could bring a case against them.  This has the very real possibility of cutting essential programs that may have otherwise helped prisoners get their lives back together.  The continual drive to bring inmates to prisons leaves a lot of room for corruption.

This has actually happened.  Cases brought to light include one in which two judges received up to $2.6 million to send children to certain juvenile facilities.  At times these children were brought before the court without a lawyer and sentenced to extended lengths of time. Another prime example is the recent immigration laws in Arizona.  This absurd law was originally written by the prison industry of Arizona, which hoped to ensure a steady stream of illegal immigrants into their prisons.

Maybe these are extreme cases or maybe this is only the tip of the iceberg.  Either way, the tendency to view prisoners as a commodity isn’t right.  The idea of profiting over someone else’s misery is sickening.

In the capitalist world, everything seems to be up for grabs.  Prisons, universities and volunteer efforts have all started to fall under the “for-profit” model.  But some things shouldn’t be driven by profit.  It’s time for us to seriously evaluate what those things should and shouldn’t be.

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